03/07/2011 06:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ensign's Retirement Promises Another Colorful Year Of Nevada Politics

"There are consequences to sin," said Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), referencing the extra-marital affair that led, inevitably, to the news conference where the troubled Senator announced his forthcoming retirement. And among those consequences? Nevada is set to become as fiercely contested a state in 2012 as it was last election cycle.

Ensign's decision will touch off a series of changes to Nevada's political landscape. It places a newly elected Republican Representative in the driver's seat for a Senate promotion. It cracks the door ajar -- ever so slightly -- for a possible Democratic pickup. It provides the previously defeated Sharron Angle with a possible path to Washington, D.C. Jon Ralston is already tweeting up a storm, and why not? His studio is likely to be as popular a destination in 2012 as it was in 2010.

The man expected to be the odds-on favorite to take Ensign's place in the Senate is their current 2nd District Representative, Republican Dean Heller. He's been sending strong signals that he's interested in the seat, and voters have been sending him back all the right messages: in late January, polls had Heller ahead of Ensign in a hypothetical primary matchup by 15 points. And that's where Angle comes in -- Heller's departure from the House would create an opportunity for the woman who failed to defeat Harry Reid to join him in Washington.

And if Heller opts out of running for Senate? Well, that could bring back chicken-barterer Sue Lowden, who lost out to Angle in the 2010 GOP primary. Back in January, Lowden told Chris Matthews: "If John Ensign doesn't run, and Congressman Dean Heller decides not to throw his hat in the ring, I would think about it seriously." Of course, if Lowden runs, that will present a pretty tempting target for Angle, as well. Angle's already demonstrated the ability to raise staggering amounts of money. By contrast, Lowden is having trouble retiring her 2010 campaign debt.

The DSCC is pretty excited about this, as you might imagine:

Nevada is now an open seat, and ripe for a Democratic pickup. It remains high on our target list. Whoever Republicans field as their candidate will have a tough time holding onto this seat in a blue-trending state with President Obama at the top of the ticket. Democrats will have the resources needed to win this seat and just as important, will build a grassroots organization that matches 2008 and 2010.

I'm not sure their chances are as ripe as they believe. The current Rothenberg Report has the seat as "leans Republican," and I'm led to believe it was assigned that rating under the assumption that Ensign was not going to defend it. Among the Democratic contenders are Rep. Shelley Berkley, who currently represents Nevada's 1st Congressional District, and Rory Reid -- who lost the Nevada gubernatorial race to Brian Sandoval and who is currently embroiled in a campaign contribution scandal.

Hey, maybe crazy-man Jim Gibbons will run for one of these seats! I can hope, right?

At any rate, John Ensign will now get to spend more time with his family, many of whom have already spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to pay off the family of his mistress.

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